By Gabriel Dike and Bianca Iboma-Emefu
The Nigerian education system has not been without aberrations. Some of these are as a result of social, political and economic factors in the environment within which the schools operate.
Therefore, this is certainly not the best of times for Nigerian education, especially at the secondary school level.
Stakeholders are worried over recent death in some secondary schools around the country as a result of bullying, cultism and assault on students and teachers.
The death of 12-year-old Sylvester Oromoni Junior, a student of Dowen College, Lekki, Lagos, brought out these fears and worries more graphically. The boy allegedly lost his life to bullying in the hands of five fellow students. It was a huge shock to the nation and the echo is still reverberating even beyond the education sector.
Oromoni aspired to be a pilot. He was allegedly beaten in the hostel by some senior students and was given a substance suspected to be chemical to drink. This burnt his lips and made him uncomfortable before he passed on.
The school did not help matters as its principal, Mrs Adebisi Layiwola, insisted that Oromoni sustained injuries while playing football. His cousin, Perrison Oromoni, had earlier, through his Twitter handle, exposed how Sylvester was beaten by the five students.
Former students and parents have come out to share their experiences. Dowen College, established 17 years ago, does not have a Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Oromoni’s death led to the formation of an ad hoc Parents Forum (PF). The body demanded justice for Sylvester as was boldly written on the T-shirts worn during a candlelight procession for the young Oromoni.
It also called for a change in the school management, installation of CCTV cameras and beefing up security in the college and the hostels. The PF members called for the prosecution of the students involved, no matter the status of their parents.
President, Association for Formidable Educational Development (AFED), Mr Emmanuel Orji, said bullying would remain in the present school system where government and individuals are preoccupied with the desire to make money out of the sector: “If someone can pay high fees, discipline will take flight.”
He observed that the increasing cases of bullying further exposed the managerial loopholes and growing weaknesses in the school system: “Managements are either complaisant, aiding or abetting, or completely ignorant of what to do to check excessive character or behavioural or even what we call delinquency. Schools do not want to lose those who pay as at when due.
‘’Withdrawal of punishment in the school system is not helping matters. School needs to uphold discipline as an integral part of school law backed by national law.
‘’Parents meddling into school disciplinary policies should be considered a crime punishable under the law. Government and schools associations should work together to fashion out laws or policies that can curb the issues of bullying.’’
A parent, Mr Jimoh Alade, said: “Students are normally encouraged to join clubs as a means of promoting social development. The clubs must be registered with the school management. But in the recent times, students form associations without the knowledge of the school.
Reports of students’ deaths in schools have been linked to cult related activities. It is common knowledge that members of rival cults attack each other or students with dangerous weapons and in some instances handguns.”
Mr Henry Ekpo of EduCom called on stakeholders including parents to tackle the issue of bullying in schools: “Stories from schools about bullying should be a wakeup call for prompt action to be taken against students involved.
“Before Oromoni, many students have been injured leading to some parents changing schools for their wards. Junior or any student bullied should not keep quiet. School authorities and state governments should apply stiffer penalties on students found wanting and school managements that attempt to cover up bullying.”
Deputy National Coordinator, Ogunjimi Isaac and acting National Mobilization Officer, Michael Lenin, of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), in a joint statement said: ‘’We condole with the family of the deceased as well as Nigerians who are outraged by this tragedy. We also demand for justice and a probe into the incident and the prosecution of the students responsible.
‘’We condemn the effort of the management of Dowen College to paint Sylvester’s death as a product of a football accident when the emerging facts point to the contrary. No doubt the management is trying to protect the perpetrators and also the school’s image at the expense of Sylvester’s life.
‘’Sylvester’s ordeal with bullying and cultism is a daily experience in public primary and secondary schools across the country. So bad is the situation in public schools that rival cult groups often engage in violent attacks on each other as well as teachers and management staff often leading to deaths.
“But what makes Sylvester’s ordeal striking is that it shows how all of the social vices and crises which have destroyed public education for children of the working class and poor are now finding their ways into rich, highbrow private schools for children of the elite.’’
A father of three and businessman, Mr Rowland Ugeh, said, creating a safe environment where children can thrive socially and academically, without being afraid is necessary in schools:
“Parents should teach their children how to handle being bullied. Until something can be done on an administrative level, they should work with their children to handle bullying without being crushed or defeated.
“Teachers and school administrators should be knowledgeable and observant. They need to be aware of places where students can be bullied.
Generally, it can happen at the bathroom, playground, crowded hallways and school buses as well as via cell phones or computers where supervision is limited or absent.”
Mrs Kefe Adedibu said: “Students can inform adults about what is going on. Parents, teachers and school administrators can help students engage in positive behaviour and teach them skills so that they know how to intervene when bullying occurs. Older students can serve as mentors and educate younger students about safe practices in the school environment.
‘’Schools and classrooms must offer students a safe learning environment. Teachers and coaches need to explicitly remind students that bullying is not accepted in school and such behaviours will have consequences.’’
Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology and Head of Department (HOD) Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Lagos State University (LASU), Temitayo Adewunyi, said bullying is an abnormal and aggressive behaviour seen among children and it should be corrected:
‘’Parents have a major role to play when it comes to the safety of their children. Children cultivate ideas as they grow up. Children learn by imitation.
‘’Bullying has become a major problem among young children and teenagers in recent years. Bullying is more prominent with extrovert personality that should be curbed. When a child is bullied at school, it makes him withdraw from the society, have low self-esteem and academic performance depreciates.
“When children are bullied, they torture and instil fear in them as well as carting away their belongings, cash and kind. They become insecure and in some cases end tragically. Schools need to initiate preventive measures such as clinical and psychological intervention.”
The Association of Professional Counsellors in Nigeria (APROCON), Lagos chapter, said it is sad to know that the college has no professionally trained counsellor considering the status of the school as well as the fees paid that would make the employment of counsellor affordable.
Its chairperson, Dr Bola Makinde, alleged that an English teacher with diploma certificate in computer programming has been acting as the college counsellor without counselling skills. She said the association wrote the Ministry of Education to allow schools employ full-time counsellors. She backed APROCON’s demand by quoting Section 11 and Subsection 43 of National Policy on Education, which makes it mandatory for schools to have counsellors.